Tragedy Amidst the Ashes

Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday.  So begins my favorite liturgical season of the year – Lent.  

I’m sure it has to do with the peculiarities of my personality and tastes, but Lent is to me the most dramatic and powerful of the liturgical seasons.  Easter is of course the greatest and most important season – without which there would be no point in Lent.  Pentecost is exciting as we consider the Holy Spirit’s continued work in the Church, but let’s face it, it goes on too long and loses punch.  Advent and Christmas are full of traditions, but many of them aren’t related so much to worship, outside of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  
But Lent…Lent is redolent with so many sensory, visceral moments and themes.  The cold, fragrant grit of the ashes on Ash Wednesday.  The flickering movements of the palms on Palm Sunday (no, we’re not going to argue about whether or not Holy Week should be considered Lent or not, so calm down).  Darkness and candlelight and the final, echoing boom of the strepitus of the closing tomb on Good Friday that always makes us jump no matter how we try to brace ourselves for it.  It’s an amazing season.
It is also a season we desperately need.  It is far easier to envision ourselves as the redeemed saints after Easter than it is to acknowledge our depraved need for salvation in Lent.  In a culture obsessed with personal best and achievement, Lent is the cold dash of water in the face that reminds us that graduating from Harvard is not our goal personally or for our children.  It won’t do what we most need to be done in our lives.  For that, we need Lent to remind us what we really are under our pretenses and designer labels – ashes and dust.  So much the greater joy on Easter morning!
As much as I love this season and the launching point in ashes on Ash Wednesday, not everyone agrees, so I read with interest this entry from a blog an  associate of mine participates in.  He makes a good point about the nature of the ashes – what they are intended for and what they easily become in our sinful pride.  
I don’t agree that we are tragic figures (from an objective standpoint), but I would definitely agree that we like to think of ourselves as tragic.  Essentially good but with one or two issues – perhaps major ones – that invariably trip us up.  Essentially worthwhile on our own recognizance, until we crash to the ground.  I suspect that when we can finally see ourselves as we really are (thanks to C.S. Lewis for helping me to imagine that), we will not find our old, sinful selves tragic.  We will see us for the self-serving, self-seeking, grubby and shabby little things we have become in slavery to sin.  It will be to the greater glory and praise of our heavenly Father that He could continue to see us as we were intended to be, as He intended to restore us.  It will be to the greater glory and praise of God the Son that He would consent to be humiliated by taking on our identity in order to accomplish that redemption.  
Our situation is tragic, but it is tragic on a much broader scale than the personal, I imagine.  
In any event, I look forward to making and explaining and sharing the ashes.  I look forward to that tactile expression and confession and reminder of who and what I am destined to be were it not for the overwhelming love and grace of God the Father through Jesus Christ as revealed to me by God the Holy Spirit.  It would be tacky to wish you happy Lent, but I look forward to traveling that bitter road with you this year.

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